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Aerials on PDA's for High Rises


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In the wake of the Grenfell fire there has been much debate about what different brigades / services send on the PDA to High Rise fires in similar buildings. Newsnight have carried out an investigation and the results are included in this article London fire.

Now without debating the specifics of the incident, how accurate are the responses from your brigade / service to Newsnight and have they changed since Grenfell?

I was slightly surprised in ours in that whilst the number of pumps is correct we actually only sent an aerial to the majority of high rises and that was when all the aerials were primarily crewed. With jump manning there's an automatic delay as this is sorted out, so the pumps will arrive first.

Leaving aside the obvious reason of cost saving, I can also see both sides from an operational point of view as the high rise procedure is based on fighting the fire internally and I can't recall any incidents which I've attended where the aerial was used, which i know also feeds the old adage of use them or lose them.

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In the last week, GMFRS has put Aerials back on PDA. They are alternately crewed, but they are back on. They say it will be reviewed in January 2018.

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Lincolnshire no change, Humberside have added theirs back onto the PDA.  Previously it was 3 pumps, 4 if confirmed fire, now includes an aerial.

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If fire reported below 4th floor no Aerial sent. If unknown or above 4th floor one is included on PDA.

Since Grenfell I wouldn't say it's changed, more erring on side of caution and seeing full PDA most of the time rather than "intelligent mobilising" based off caller description as was case before.

Maybe slightly different in control, just what I've noticed at this end.

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13 hours ago, Cardiff_Fire said:

If fire reported below 4th floor no Aerial sent. If unknown or above 4th floor one is included on PDA.

The person who made that decision is probably a smoke dodging buffoon - just a guess

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Aye, it's raised a few eyebrows. Not sure if it's policy or just "intelligent" mobilising, I'll look into it next tour. Regardless, it seems to be full complement since Grenfell.

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The whole 4th floor thing is very short sighted, a fire in a high rise building regardless of where the seat of the fire is reported, needs an Aerial appliance.

We need to learn our lessons, and learn them well.

The time for cut backs and penny pinching over appliance movements has gone, we need to concentrate on our core functions - saving human life and fighting fire.

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Many years ago when I was at North Kensington, aerials were removed from PDAs across our ground and the neighbouring A21 Paddington's ground.

An (unnamed) Station Manager did research that 'justified' removing them from:

Areas and roads where high rise blocks (A below) were located, as they are designed to permit stay in place.

He scrapped aerials to many of the streets where 5, 6 & 7 storey  houses of multiple occupancy/ townhouse buildings (B) were located (much of our patch) as a 135 would reach most of the building. We argued that the compartmentation of these tenements was often poor and single timber staircases were often lost early in a fire. We weren't listened to, indeed Kensington fire station lost their HP at about this time


I asked to look at the research. It was a thesis from a senior officer from another Brigade that had been plagiarised and misquoted in order to make these cuts

For example, the thesis argued that aerials rarely, if ever, attend very large single store warehouses (VLSSW) on a PDA . His research had shown that the majority of times where an aerial was got to work as a water tower  was at such premises (C). He argued that early intervention using an aerial at a VLSSW - say, early venting of the roof to allow smoke and gases to escape -  could produce significant results in avoiding total losses.

I pointed out the recommendation re adding aerials to PDAs for VLSSWs during the (fake) consultation period, but did not receive a reply. 

Some PDAs on our patch remained unaltered, including HMP Wormwood Scrubs. This is a Victorian prison comprising of long 4 story brick wings - all with barred windows preventing rescues by aerial, and many having difficult access issues. (including razor wire, rabid dogs and wire cables suspended across the site at roof level to prevent helicopter landings. All in all, not aerial natural habitat!!

In my time at North Ken, we had jobs in the Scrubs, including  BA rescue. But an aerial was not needed. In the same time period, I attended countless jobs in HMOs where the aerial went up and where multiple rescues where carried out, and access was assisted by the early arrival of the aerial

I hope that the Govt really do look at the aerial provision on PDAs as highlighted by the BBC and procure addition aerials so PDAs can be realistic again and match the risk



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I agree with most of what Messy has put (who would I be not to after all), but I've got a slightly different take on it in part. 

Just with regard to appliance movements, Kensington lost an HP in 1986 but gained a TL until 1992 when it moved to Chelsea, Paddington lost an HP in 1986 and was without an aerial until 1992 when they got a TL. I won't go on, I'm boring myself here, let alone you readers.

In 2001 after taking part in the cost cutting exercise that was the Best Value Review of Aerial Appliances, I decided to do some work on aerial PDAs. I got hold of the master list and began to map them out, do some work on location of appliances etc, and produced a paper which recommended various things. It was never used, and in 2004 the fleet was cut as were AFA attendances for aerials.

If I concentrate on North Kensington as that's where the focus is right now, they were well covered by aerial PDAs. As you can see they had 245 listed at that time. For a station that had never had an aerial this was more than any in London. In the main, any station with a history of having an aerial had more PDAs than ones who didn't, a fact that isn't surprising because their know their vehicle and want to attend the correct places. What always struck me as odd was Hammersmith, a ground very similar in demographic to North Ken, Paddington et al, but only had 103. I recall quite vividly an ADO there who gleefully removed aerials from just about all roads other than the main ones on that ground. In my experience of piloting either a set of ladders or a platform around that area I don't recall ever suggesting filling out a F5566 to get an aerial on anything (we did it plenty for other grounds). 

But, from that point on there has been movement on three separate occasions to my knowledge, and it's Brigade-wide. Each time it's resulted in a reduction in the amount of streets/risks/buildings that require an AL. I monitor our systems regularly and see roads that used to get them that don't now, and that simply isn't right, the building stock hasn't changed that much, except for maybe cramming more people in and sub-dividing houses into flats with questionable workmanship therein. I have raised this time and again in the various forums I'm involved with, and it is on the table again with the height review, not just for high-rise but all buildings within a set of criteria a certain StnO and I wrote back in the late 1990s. I can post this if anyone's interested. I don't know how many aerial PDAs North Kensington has now, but I'll have pint on the fact it'll be less.

The thesis Messy mentions is the 'Aerial Appliance Fire Cover' Case Study, completed by DO Michael McClean of GMC for his Brigade Command Course in 2000. I have a copy here in front of me and have re-read parts of it today to gauge its' relevance. It should be borne in mind that this was produced against a backdrop of 'Best Value', cutting costs, whereas now I feel that has changed slightly into one of operational requirements more predominantly.

First, and call me a cynic if need be, but this looks like it's written by someone who (i) was after a top job so cuts and efficiencies come above operational need, (ii) from the complete lack of accounts of use this is someone with little or no experience of aerial use and (iii) fancied a trip to Australia and New Zealand.  

It's fair to say that at that time the approach to fire cover was changing from the traditional A-D attendances to a more risk-based approach. Aerials have never had them, but in 1994 the DCOL 1/1994 gave the first suggestion of it as A risk 10 mins, B risk 13 mins, C risk 20 mins, D risk unspecified. In our latest Safety Plan, Adrian Thomas's recommendation of having aerial attendance times (not a new idea!) must be giving the accountants who want to cut them a proper headache, we will see where that goes, but it is being talked about. My own personal opinion now is that the other statement in it of looking at crewing arrangements may well be shelved for now, or adjusted depending on what the fleet ends up looking like. 

Whenever I read anything like this, when I pick up a fact I know not to be true it makes me suspicious of the whole document. The historical perspective not right, but I won't go into that now... At no point in this document does he refer to the largest user of aerials in the UK, London. While I don't for one minute think that we use them as effectively as we could, then and now, his assumption that they're no longer appropriate for rescue is totally wrong. He doesn't take into account the layout of streets where if there is a developing fire, if it's not in there first, it ain't getting in there at all, he assumes that most buildings have been brought up to modern building regs and fire safety standards... the list of gripes goes on...

One thing that is highlighted in there though is the acknowledgement that the perception is that aerials are mainly used at high-rise incidents, and we've all seen the press and others reinforce in the weeks since Grenfell. The report goes on to say that this is a mis-conception. 

Perhaps most interestingly out of all of it, the reasoning for not placing an aerial on a PDA was that personnel, water and SSoW's needed to be in place before one could work effectively. I couldn't believe that comment! For some tasks they are a self-contained unit capable of rescue quicker than most fire crews pitching a 135 ladder (in the case of a TL anyway) given a level playing field, but for other tasks yes they do need help, and that is why they need a support crew, nurse pump call it what you will to assist them, not wait until everything's in place before calling in an AL, who ever heard such tosh!!

And digest this comment, typed verbatim....

'The faster an aerial appliance responds the longer it is involved in firefighting, which contradicts the rapid intervention argument'. Not quite sure what to make of that....

The thesis reasons that aerials are no longer used as rescue from fire vehicles, remember this is pretty much pre the technical stuff they do these days, like line ops, casualty retrieval etc.. this is hardly surprising as the whole thesis only analyses 18 dedicated aerials of which two were TLs, although telebooms are mentioned. How can any quantitative or qualitative outcomes be gleaned from that!?!? 

So, in conclusion, my report on that report was that it was at best poor and I suspect many Brigades hung on its every word, and to a point ours did it seems. 

Times have changed and aerials need their own people assigned to come up with a strategy for their use and their place within the fire service armoury. They bridge the fire and the technical aspects of our job and if used to their full potential are a fantastic resource. Maybe one day we'll get there....

Just to finish on what the initial question actually was, our HR attendances have increased by one pump and an aerial to all. The pump is designated 'aerial support'. Imagine my surprise when aerials disappeared from AFA and SD actuating calls ten days ago. A call to a certain person ensued and was told that they'd been removed. But, I said, the 5th pump is still on it, what's that for? The answer came back 'aerial support', I replied but there's no aerial on it to support... 'ah' came the reply. They're back on all calls now :-). This is the start of addressing what they go to and with whom on a wider basis, but that discussion is for another day. 

PDA 2001.jpg

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Fascinating stuff Dot. 

I was at Nth Ken for many years and (call me old fashioned) feel a strong connection with the place and at one time, I understood the risk there as good as anyone. However, I am at a loss to why they had so many aerial PDAs compared to comparative grounds nearby

All I can think is they were doing it right when all around were not so insightful ;)


(Ps - Didn't realise the PE at Harrow's open day on Saturday was yours or I would have come and said hi. )

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That's not surprising Messy, I always thought North Ken and us had a kind of affinity given the amount of jobs we had together. Perhaps yes you lot more inciteful than we gave you credit for!! 

I was at Harrow with ET, the PE was a friend of mines... shame I missed you. 

Thanks for nice words Dyson and you Messy, 


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  • 2 weeks later...

The info is right, in so far as the primary staffed Aerial in our brigade would have attended, but the reality is that the PDA is 4 pumps to all High Rise incidents, the Aerial will only attend when it is a 'confirmed' fire. The original PDA was 3 pumps & 1 Aerial to all High Rises, but this changed to 4 when we got the dreaded CARPs, the thinking being, at least one of the appliances on scene would have an aerial capability. It's still not changed back yet after 3 years!!

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